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The Spanish government has approved controversial reforms aimed at protecting the public, detailing more accurate roles and responsibilities for both the public, and security services, as well as the actions that both can expect in the event of confrontation or protest.

The new laws have been under consultation for the last seven months, with many opponents stating that they undermine the fundamental public right of citizens to protest, and make it easier to enforce an almost martial law situation, whereas supporters believe that it will reduce the conflicts and damage caused when protests have sped out of control in the past.

Detailing the reasons behind the reform, a report from the Interior Ministry explains that since the adoption of the 1978 Constitution, the first law that regulated the intervention of public authorities in the field of public safety was the Organic Law 1/1992 of the 21st of February of that year. Now, after 22 years of operation, with the cumulative police experience and new circumstances affecting public safety, including new threats and technological developments such as the internet and social networks, it was necessary to adopt a new law according to the demands of our time, especially to deal with anti-social behaviour and thus guarantee the safety and security of citizens.

The new act coincides in “perfect harmony” with the draft Penal Code which is pending in the Congress of Deputies, in which some sanctions will no longer be criminalised, and thus dealt with as administration offences.

More power will be given to the security services to create stoppages, controls and blockades in the event of a potential risk to public safety. The ability of the security services to use rubber bullets has been defined clearer in the law, albeit as a last resort.

A third element goes to great detail in identifying and defining a number of offences, thus giving a legal certainty. The overruling message of the act is to “not punish anymore, but to punish better”.

The law divides offences into three groups, defined as very serious, serious and minor. There are only 4 very serious infringements, which are precisely those behaviours likely to cause serious damage to people and property. One such inclusion is the shining of lights, such as laser pointers, into the eyes of drivers or pilots, with serious concerns growing in the aviation industry of this increasing threat, which saw 634 cases in 2013, compared to just 120 cases in 2013.

There are 26 serious violations related to violence, vandalism and antisocial behaviour. In terms of public demonstrations, the law seeks to punish “only the violent, aggressive or coercive”, such as those who invade airport runways or commit arson on public roads. Moreover, the Act expressly protects the right to demonstrate and punishes those who encourage the development of a peaceful demonstration into becoming a disturbance.

There are 17 minor offenses listed, such as considering holding demonstrations without prior notice, as was the case recently in La Zenia when the Alicante authorities refused permission for a neighbourhood protest on account of the short notice given.

As for the financial penalties involved in each of the three categories, very serious offenses are punishable by a fine of between 30,001 to 600,000 euro, serious infractions face a fine between 601 to 30,000 euro, whereas the less serious offenders will be looking to lose between 100 to 600 euro. There is a matrix for each category based on the seriousness of the offences committed, with consideration also given for the number of times an offender has appeared before the judiciary. There is also a consideration for the individual financial situation of those involved.

Finally, another matter is cleared up by the new laws, which makes it now a serious offence to impersonate a member of the security services. This also covers recent controversy when carnival and fiesta attendees faced a threat of action for dressing as members of the Guardia Civil, after a new law came into force earlier in the year regulating the use of uniforms. Although perhaps done in jest, the element of dressing up, even in a comedic guise, is included within this law, with those who dress up in fancy dress facing charges.

Filed under: http://www.theleader.info/article/44329/

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